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Email: State suspends clinic set up to connect patients with medical marijuana

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ST. PAUL, Minnesota — A new clinic promising to help patients get signed up for Minnesota's medical marijuana program has been suspended by the state, a potential blow to hopeful patients and a New York company seeking to connect them with willing doctors.

The Minnesota Certification Clinic in Bloomington billed itself as a solution for residents struggling to get a physicians' sign-off to obtain medical marijuana. But the clinic informed would-be patients Tuesday in an email obtained by The Associated Press that it was canceling all appointments for certification. It cited a Department of Health decision last week to suspend its accounts with the state.

It's a sign of trouble for MarijuanaDoctors.com, a New York firm instrumental in setting up the Bloomington clinic with nearly a dozen more in the works. Their business model, routing residents anxious to try medical marijuana to clinics friendly to the new medication, is clashing with state regulations meant to ensure patients are certified only by doctors with whom they have a medical history.

MarijuanaDoctors co-founder and Chief Operating Officer John Nicolazzo didn't know of the suspension until he was informed by AP. But he said it would not ultimately hinder his company's efforts with other clinics. Many traditional doctors have been reluctant to sign off on medical marijuana for their patients.

"That is a shame, if that is the case. I know that patients are going to need to find a doctor real soon here," he said, referring to the July 1 launch when Minnesota patients can start getting medicine.

The Minnesota Certification Clinic blamed its revocation in part on an AP story Friday on MarijuanaDoctors' efforts in Minnesota. In its email, it encouraged patients "caught between providers who are limited by personal or institutional limitations" to contact the state and explain their troubles. Physicians at the clinic did not respond to several phone calls and an email seeking comment.

State officials would not confirm the clinic's status, citing privacy laws. It's also unclear whether Minnesota Certification Clinic physicians had registered any patients in Minnesota's program before the suspension; as the clinic suggested in its email.

The medical community's hesitance to take part in Minnesota's new program has played a role in slow enrollment — 27 patients had been certified by their physicians as of Monday, and 54 were approved by the state to certify patients for the program. The state pegs their estimates for final enrollment around 5,000 enrollees.

Nicolazzo said he spoke with a Minnesota Department of Health employee late last week and hopes to speak with Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger soon to ease any of the state's concerns about his business. MarijuanaDoctors went through a similar feeling-out process in New Jersey, he said.

He stressed that the Minnesota Certification Clinic — and others the company is setting up — aren't meant to serve as mills to get patients signed up easily, but as a last resort that residents suffering from the narrow list of qualifying conditions can turn to if their physicians aren't on board.

"Any time the state has the wrong impression ... I always want to correct that," Nicolazzo said.

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